Top Tips for First-Time Travelers to Europe

Rent a vacation home in Paris with Eiffel Tower views.

You might think that organizing a trip to Europe is just like any other vacation: book your flights, rent a vacation home, do a little research, and you’re good to go. While that approach might work most of the time, it’s always wise to be well-prepared.

To that end, we’ve put together some top tips for first-time travelers to Europe. From what to expect while you’re there to the best ways to get around, here’s some helpful advice for before and after booking your European rental on FlipKey!

1. Apply for a passport. You’re going to need one to travel throughout Europe. Avoid fees to expedite the process by applying as soon as you can—it often takes up to eight weeks to get yours in hand. Once you have it, make a copy of your information page and keep it handy while you’re abroad.

2. Avoid peak season. There are lots of advantages to timing your trip to Europe. The price of flights and vacation rentals tends to drop during the off-season (November-March) and shoulder season (April-June), which means big savings for you. Besides the benefit of spending less, avoiding peak season will give you the opportunity to experience a more authentic Europe with fewer tourists and shorter lines at popular attractions.

3. Book a vacation rental for extra space. From bedrooms to portion sizes, most things are smaller in Europe. Travelers seeking extra breathing room (and great value!) ought to consider booking a vacation rental in Europe for a more comfortable stay. Whether it’s a modern flat in central London or a Grecian villa perched on the cliffs of Santorini, FlipKey has over 300,000 rentals to choose from.

4. Carry a pocket dictionary. While it’s smart to practice a few common phrases before you arrive (please and thank you can go a long way!), having a dictionary in your pocket or purse won’t hurt. But, with so many different languages spoken in Europe, it’ll be impossible to learn them all before you go. You’ll want your pocket dictionary handy when you’re desperately trying to recall how to ask for directions or where the bathroom is!

5. Think before tipping too much at restaurants. While tipping is appreciated almost everywhere (except maybe Japan), it’s not as common as it is in the US. The final bill at most European restaurants typically includes service, but it’s recommended to reward good service with a modest tip of 5 to 10 percent. Whenever possible, tip in cash to ensure that your server gets it!

Dining tips for first-time travelers to Europe.

6. Expect to eat late and linger over meals. Many Europeans start dinner at a later time, eat at a slower pace than Americans, and view mealtime as an opportunity to socialize. Expect to sit down for a leisurely meal each night. If you tend to be an early-eater, we recommend waiting to eat lunch until mid-afternoon and keeping snacks handy at your vacation rental. Try to embrace not being in a hurry!

7. Make the most of public transportation. Europe is known for its transit system, and you can get almost anywhere via its vast rail network. Purchase a rail pass to travel from country to country, or explore each city using the local metro system.

8. Be friendly. It might seem obvious, but this is one of our top tips for first-time travelers to Europe. Chances are you’ll need directions or help tackling a language barrier at some point, so put on a smile and offer a warm greeting—it will be much appreciated. You’ll find most Europeans eager to help you out. Who knows? You might even get a great dinner recommendation or even make a new friend during your travels!

9. Explore! While you should absolutely climb the Eiffel Tower, ride a gondola down the canals of Venice, indulge in a Bavarian beer tour in Munich, and experience all of the items on your bucket list, don’t be afraid to stray from the beaten path. Some of the most picturesque landmarks and charming cafes can be found if you venture down the most unassuming path.